Getting traumatized — again — after violent crime

Crime victim survivors at gathering in Sacramento called Survivors Speak 2019. (Photo: Survivors Speak 2019)
My son Tre’ was killed in a shooting in South Sacramento when he was just 21 years old. At the time, I was in a body cast and bedridden, recovering from back surgery.

No one buys life insurance on a healthy 21-year-old child. But there I was having to do the unimaginable, bury my youngest child, while trying to recover from surgery, support my children and prepare for my return to the work I love.

I felt some relief when I heard about support that California offers to survivors to help defray expenses related to violent crime. As quickly as I learned about the support, I also learned of the various obstacles for victims to try to obtain these funds – causing even more trauma.

I have found amazing support for myself and my children through family and friends and heroic organizations such as the Healing 5 Foundation.

It’s not as easy to access those resources as people might think. My family and I were denied the resources and the support we needed to bury my son, which delayed the process of healing. The painful, disappointing and years-long journey of seeking the support we are entitled to under the law, which continues to be met with denials, is re-traumatizing for my family and me.

The most recent letter informing me that we were, once again, denied compensation was almost too difficult to read. While I was advised I could prepare an appeal, the systematic and political hoops were daunting and left me with yet more trauma and too much to grieve.

If resources are available for families experiencing trauma, why would we not make them easier to access, whenever they are needed?

That’s the question at the heart of a bill in the California Legislature that removes some of the most basic, and harmful, barriers to victim compensation. SB 375, authored by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) and sponsored by Californians for Safety and Justice, would remove barriers that keep crime survivors from accessing services and support by extending the deadline to apply for victim compensation from three years to 10 years.

The bill was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week and is now waiting on a vote by the full California Senate.

Over the last several years, I have found amazing support for myself and my children through family and friends and heroic organizations such as the Healing 5 Foundation. I’ve also found community in building relationships with other crime survivors, thanks to my involvement in Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ), a national movement that brings together survivors to share our stories and take action to ensure true healing and safety for our communities.

Through CSSJ, I have found a platform for speaking out more forcefully for my own needs and the needs of other survivors. We know firsthand what it takes to restore our families and communities and make us safe and whole. And we are advancing a broad agenda of criminal justice reforms that emphasize prevention, rehabilitation and recovery—not more prisons and jails.

That’s why I am sharing my story and speaking out in favor of SB 375. If I had had access to the support and resources needed to heal after Tre’ died, my family and I would have been able to deal with our grief more effectively. All survivors are entitled to these resources to make sure we can recover and heal when we are ready.

No one should be able tell families that we’re denied necessary support because of arbitrary rules and deadlines that fail to consider the impact of trauma. If you’ve never lost a loved to a violent crime, you can’t imagine the pain we experience. We know what happened to us — and now we are working to make sure other families don’t suffer the additional trauma we did.

It’s critical that lawmakers pass this important bill, so crime survivors can access the support they need to recover and heal.

Editor’s Note: Tammie Denyse is the author of the Power of Hope: Reclaiming Your Life After Tragedy. She also is co-founder and president of Carrie’s TOUCH Breast Cancer Organization and a member of the Sacramento chapter of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

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